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Published in Print: September 1, 2006, as Performance Boosters

Best Practices

Performance Boosters—Middle Grades

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Teach For America alumnus
7th grade Language Arts, 2004-06
Frederick Douglass Academy III
South Bronx, New York

As a new teacher two years ago, I had high hopes for student achievement. But I soon learned that kids don’t perform in poorly run classrooms. Here are some tips that helped me get my 7th graders off the walls and into their seats, where they wrote brilliant essays about Lord of the Flies.

Sweat the small stuff

If your school has a gum rule or a dress code, enforce it. A student who can’t get away with chewing gum won’t try to get away with something worse. One of my favorite rules is that students must say “thank you” whenever I hand them something—even if it’s a worksheet.

More is more

One summer, I wrote a rule for everything that might come up. I ended up with 46 rules. My students gasped when I handed them the seven-page document on the first day of school, but they knew exactly what was expected of them.

Timer is on your side

If you don’t have a timer, buy one. Then buy another one as a backup, plus plenty of batteries. My students have exactly two minutes to complete their “Do Now” as they enter the room, and this sets the tone for the rest of the class.

No negotiations

If you’re arguing with a student about the rules, you’re not teaching. You’re also telling your students that your rules are negotiable. Middle school students need structure and boundaries, and you won’t accomplish this by stopping class to argue about the bathroom policy.

Be a model of consistency

I’ve seen teachers come to school late and then complain about how their students are behaving. If you want your students to be responsible, it has to start with you.

Vol. 18, Issue 01, Page 42

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